SAN FRANCISCO — Apple Computer Inc. appointed Steve Jobs interim chief executive on Tuesday, formalizing a role the controversial co-founder has effectively held since a management shake-up at the company two months ago.
Jobs will serve as chief executive until a permanent replacement is found, according to Apple officials. They said the search should be concluded before the end of the year.
Analysts said the move was little more than a formality, given Jobs' role as the de facto leader of the struggling Cupertino-based computer maker since former CEO Gilbert Amelio was ousted in July. Experts also said it's unlikely that Jobs will become Amelio's permanent replacement.
"I'd be surprised if he turned into a permanent chief executive unless he saw some fairly immediate signs of an upturn in Apple's fortunes," said Daniel Kunstler, an analyst at J.P. Morgan in San Francisco. "There's still a lot of fixing to be done."
Jobs, who was unavailable for comment, had previously turned down an offer to be the permanent CEO at Apple, partly because he is already chairman and chief executive of Pixar Inc., a successful digital-animation company.
Despite its temporary nature, the appointment puts Jobs in the position he sought before he was ousted from Apple a decade ago in a boardroom fight with then-CEO John Sculley.
After years in exile, Jobs returned as an advisor late last year, when he sold his Next Software Inc. to Apple for $400 million. Jobs then forced Amelio out.
Since then, Jobs has been head of the company in all but title, engineering a stunning partnership with Microsoft Corp., a sweeping overhaul of the board of directors and Apple's recent about-face on cloned Macintosh computers. He has also made sweeping internal changes, resetting employees' stock option prices and dismantling the company's generous sabbatical program.
The moves have returned an aura of decisiveness to a company that has lost more than $1.5 billion over the last six quarters and that was increasingly perceived as rudderless.
But analysts caution that Apple's troubles are far from over, and many say that Jobs may not be interested in a long-term commitment as CEO, partly because the company's problems are so intractable.
Jobs' appointment was made last week during the first regularly scheduled meeting of Apple's board of directors since its overhaul last month.
The board also met with its executive recruiter, John Thompson of Heidrick & Struggles, to review the status of its search for a CEO. Company officials declined to comment on whether any leading candidates had emerged.